Guest Column | November 27, 2019

The Role Of Telehealth And Digitization In The Medical Marijuana Industry

By Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes

Nurses Disrupted By Telehealth

The medical marijuana industry is gaining momentum, and the progress is largely due to telehealth platforms and other health digitization efforts. Here's a look at some recent relevant developments impacting medical marijuana use and access. 

Online Marijuana Platforms Increase Ease Of Access

States that allow using marijuana for medical reasons require patients to receive approval from a doctor as a first step. Succeeding in that phase means the individual then holds a medical marijuana card that enables accessing the drug. 

NuggMD is one company that provides those cards online. People connect with doctors through the internet and can get approved to access marijuana within minutes. Websites like these assist patients that may be having difficulty acquiring medical marijuana because their local providers resist this kind of treatment. NuggMD even celebrated Veterans Day by offering free medical marijuana evaluations to veterans in Oklahoma. 

These telemedicine evaluations have length and price variations, but they generally involve a patient describing their ailments and a physician recommending types of cannabis to help. Doctors often email treatment plans to their patients after the consultations, making it easy for people to ensure they don't buy the wrong products. 

IndicaMD is another telemedicine-based platform for people who want to use medical marijuana. It uses a secure video chat platform and is for patients in New York and California. People can access the service through a smartphone, tablet or computer. 

Once people have their medical marijuana prescriptions, platforms like Eaze help people in participating states get fast deliveries of marijuana and hemp products. However, in May 2019, Google banned apps from its Play Store that allow in-app marijuana purchases. People can still look at the available products, such as in a gallery. They have to go outside the app to actually complete those transactions, however. 

The Blockchain Enables Better Tracking And Transparency

Even places that have legalized medical marijuana have to follow tight policies for distributing it. For example, Canadian pharmacies cannot dispense it. Patients need to go to an e-commerce provider to have their prescriptions filled. One of those providers, Shoppers Drug Mart, recently expanded its e-commerce medical marijuana options, and it piloted a blockchain system to trace the products. 

The blockchain system reportedly serves as a centralized hub for handling things ranging from quality assurance to product verification. The hope is that blockchain-based technology will help patients access standardized varieties of marijuana that can give them certain expected outcomes. 

In the pharmaceutical industry overall, standardized formulas set patient and provider expectations. Such standardization is not yet the norm with medical marijuana, but the blockchain could help change that. 

Digital Technologies Can Help Predict Demand

Once states legalize marijuana for medical reasons, it often doesn't take long for the industry to show growth. For example, Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis in 2016. Some analysts think the state could become the sixth-largest market in the nation. This expected popularity appeals to many people who are interested in getting into the industry and serving patients who are anxiously waiting. 

However, new and established marijuana outlets often must overcome barriers. Local news coverage said there are already more than 202,500 Pennsylvanians using medical marijuana as registered participants in a state program. Moreover, 63 dispensaries operate in Pennsylvania so far, and some complained their supplies could not satisfy patient needs. 

There's no all-encompassing solution to fix that problem, but Big Data platforms could provide predictive insights that make stock sellouts less likely to happen. Companies use analytics to stay on top of anticipated fluctuations in demand. Then, they communicate directly with growers or retailers to inform them of the likely trends. 

Online Courses Facilitate Specialized Education

Physicians typically have to earn a minimum number of continuing medical education (CME) each year to remain licensed in particular states. Doctors practicing in some places must take online courses to get the right to prescribe medical marijuana to qualifying patients. In Florida, which has an exceptionally fast-growing medical cannabis market, there are about 760 physicians who earned the certification to recommend the drug. 

Becoming certified requires taking a two-hour course from the state's health department. Outside of Florida, students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, can earn a master's degree in medical cannabis. That educational institution has a two-year program in that subject, which is the first such graduate-level option available. The coursework occurs almost exclusively online. 

The inaugural program was supposed to have only 50 students, but it expanded to 150 to accommodate the demand. Students are from more than 30 states, plus Australia and Hong Kong. The boundary-free nature of the internet means people from all over the world can receive advanced education about medical marijuana and not need to worry about things like visas and travel expenses. 

An Industry In Transition

Since the medical marijuana industry is relatively new, it's changing quickly. The technologies mentioned here are proving they can help patients, providers and retailers navigate through what's ahead and get their needs met as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.

About The Author

Kayla Matthews is a MedTech writer whose work has appeared on HIT Consultant, Medical Economics and HITECH Answers, among other industry publications. To read more from Kayla, please connect with her on LinkedIn, or visit her personal tech blog at